A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

A smattering of opinions on technology, books, business, and culture. Now in its 4th technology iteration.

We just finished a home remodel, and the state of the smart home is not good

23 April 2023

(An aside – I have let my writing lapse due to other projects in the last 6 months. And that is a shame, because writing is the best way to cement your learning, to tease out your thinking, and to kickstart engagement with others. I see people that set goals to write 1000 words a day. A high bar but a good one.)

We just are wrapping up a remodelling project. Top of mind this week is all the smart tech in the home and the attention they demand. Every appliance and device maker has the central idea that their device is the most important device ever, and that you should dedicate your day to admiring it and servicing it.

  • Washers and dryers with their loud “cycle finished” alarms, because of course nothing is more important in my day that knowing when a cycle finishes, especially at 10 PM in the middle of a movie, or at 1 AM when you are in bed. And the UX to turn off the alarm is goooooofy.
  • Dishwashers with “cycle finished” alarm to rival the smoke alarm in persistence, they just go on and on and on. THe manufacturer did so much work to make the dishwasher itself quiet, only to blare an alarm saying “I’m Done!!! Come Celebrate!! NOW NOW NOW!!”. And again the UX to turn off is terrible
  • Smart thermostats that want to be the star of the room – big black obelisks with garish color displays. Most homeowners want their thermostats to disappear.
  • The smart vacuum with the speaker and voice that yells at me at 1AM to “plug me in now” because it wasn’t seated right on the charger. I just about wet my pants that night. I have a smart vacuum because I don’t want to think about vacuuming, not because I want to be yelled at by a vacuum.
  • OK the “you left the fridge door open” alarm is sensible and I am glad for that one. But it is the exception.
  • The smart doorbell that by default sends you an alert for every motion at your door – so god forbid your doorbell camera faces the street or trees or something.

Almost all the manufacturers recognize that the phone is a key part of everyone’s life, so they all build their own apps for their devices. They don’t embrace Homekit or other standards, because they want to own the relationship with the consumer. So you get a flotilla of apps, each with their own UX and object model and interaction style and notification control. Some are beyond goofy. I have a whole page of them on my phone now.

I don’t think any of us really want a refrigerator app and a stovetop app and a icemaker app and a thermostat app (three in my house because we have Trane and Honeywell thermostats and a minisplit!) We really want a home app and everything to click into it, and a common way to control notifications, to group things, to automate, etc. I’m a nerd so I of course install all the apps, but the regular humans in my household want nothing to do with this.

All these separate apps do not build the brand loyalty that the manufacturers want – every time I have to run the Honeywell app, it is time lost, and it just reminds me what jerks the Honeywell product managers are and how little they think of me.

A lot of this mess is because there is no established practice of system architecture in the home. We have great architects who think thru the physical design of the house and the mechanical systems. But I am not seeing the same leadership in digital and electrical infrastructure in the home. We have a jumble of security, audio, cat6, low voltage, and other wiring. A jumble of wireless protocols for data, for proprietary security and control systems. A jumble of apps, jumble of logins and accounts and cloud services There is no design here. The architects and contractors leave it up to subcontractors who just jam stuff in. It is all a little embarrassing.